"Popeye is about an image of, 'I am what I am'. Kind of a symbol of self-acceptance that you have to embrace who you are. Popeye has spinach. Spinach brings about his transcendence, and brings about his power. That’s what art [is]. Art is our spinach".
In 2002 Koons began the Popeye series, named after the famous fictional sailor, which is still in progress today. This character, a pop icon and proletarian symbol of triumph over adversity, and his cartoon companions (like Popeye´s beloved Olive Oyl) are the stars of these paintings and sculptures. For this series, Koons created sculptures by combining metal casts of inflatable pool toys with unaltered mass-produced ladders, chairs, and fences. Here the connection between the polychromed aluminum inflatable and the space is made by a manufactured object, challenging the notion of the readymade. The paintings in the series also include images of these inflatables among their myriad layers, which were conceptualized first in Photoshop and later transferred to canvas and hand-painted in oil. The composition is complex and, at the same time, extremely flat: the images are simple, familiar, and yet so profuse that it is difficult to identify them individually. The influence of Salvador Dalí, an artist Koons admired and subsequently met in his teen years, is palpable in the image of the lobster, which Dalí used as a receiver on his famous telephone.